Secession Bill Revives Divisiveness

Despite the new faces and the new promises of cooperation, the report from Sacramento is already sounding familiar and sadly divisive. For instance, a bill that would remove barriers to the San Fernando Valley seceding from Los Angeles got dusted off and introduced anew last week by newly elected Assemblyman Tom McClintock.

The Northridge Republican took over the seat and the fight of Paula L. Boland, who was forced out of the Assembly by term limits and ran unsuccessfully for a spot in the state Senate. McClintock said he was fulfilling a campaign promise by introducing the bill, a carbon copy of that which was defeated in the last legislative session after a protracted public fight between Boland and Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer.

McClintock claims that the bill is not about secession per se, but about giving Valley voters the power of self-determination by removing the City Council's veto power. Supporters of the bill reason that if the Valley--or any other community, for that matter--has the absolute power to walk away from the city as a whole, the council and the rest of bureaucracy will listen more closely to local gripes.

That's the kind of double-talk that betrays the bill. Let's not fool ourselves: McClintock's bill is about breaking up Los Angeles. It is about separatism.

Supporters argue that the bill could actually unify and empower neighborhoods across the city by giving individual communities more leverage over the direction of Los Angeles. Yet they steadfastly refuse to extend the right to vote on such splits to any residents outside those areas wanting to leave. For instance, Valley voters would be the only ones permitted to cast ballots on a Valley secession--even though the divorce would affect the rest of the city. Hardly democratic. That remains our primary reservation about the bill. If the splits are good for the city, then the city should vote on them.

To be sure, city government in Los Angeles can use a good kick. The bureaucracy is often unresponsive to the needs of neighborhoods. And we agree that a little fear can go a long way toward forcing the City Council into listening to the public's concerns and ideas. But the threats inherent in Boland's and now McClintock's bill are too problematic to do any real good.

A city like Los Angeles deserves to be treated as more than a disposable commodity. Charter reform efforts--as problematic as they may be--offer real hope for Los Angeles. They require the attention and energy of bright minds and tireless workers. If legislators in Sacramento really want to help Los Angeles, they should concentrate on ways to unite the city and make it stronger--not on ways to divide it even further.

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